William Weathers: Seimone Augustus puts down the ball, picks up the whistle and still wants to win

It was a phone call Seymour and Kim Augustus had anticipated receiving from their daughter Seimone well in advance of May 13.

Like most people that marveled at their daughter’s basketball career that began on the playgrounds and local gymnasiums in Baton Rouge, continued before jammed-packed crowds of Capitol High and at LSU during her All-American career and reached a zenith both in the United States and abroad, they wondered what was left for her to conquer.

She was state champion at Capitol High, the genesis for LSU’s meteoric rise to becoming a women’s basketball power, a driving force in the Minnesota Lynx’s ascent to four-time WNBA champions, a star overseas in such countries as Russia and Turkey.

At home, Seimone Augustus was considered a national hero for her role in helping the U.S. Olympic team capture three straight gold medals.

Augustus was three days away from what would have been her 16th season in the WNBA, her second with the Los Angeles Sparks, when she called her parents after a startling revelation.

At 37 years old, she was ready to retire and move into coaching.

Augustus would trade in her trademark No. 33 jersey for a clipboard and joined the coaching staff of L.A. Sparks head coach Derek Fisher where she’s officially the team’s No. 3 assistant.

“They’ve been on this journey with me the entire time,” Augustus said of her parents “My body just didn’t feel right. My mind didn’t feel right. She was like, ‘I don’t know what else you were trying to accomplish. Me and your daddy have sat here saying, what else does she want to do. You’ve done everything’.”

Augustus admitted ego had a lot to do with trying to prolong a career. That’s why she signed a one-year deal during the offseason with the Sparks where as a role player in 20 games in 2020, she scored a career-low 5.9 points during an elongated season that was conducted in a bubble or ‘wubble’ at IMG Academy because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was the innate drive to still be able to prove that she could play the game she’s loved since the age of 5 at an elite level where she’s captivated audiences globally.

The former first overall pick by Minnesota – a place she’s regarded as her second home after 14 seasons – became only the 10th player in WNBA history to score 6,000 points (5,479 of which came in Minnesota) in a career in which she started 365 of 391 games.

She was among the team’s catalyst in Minnesota’s breakthrough in 2011 with its first league championship in which Augustus was named MVP in that series. The Lynx went on to win three more WNBA titles in ’13, ’15 and ’17 and Augustus, the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2006, was also selected to the WNBA’s All-Star game on seven occasions.

But she wanted more, or so she thought.

This past off-season, Augustus followed her familiar ramp-up routine to another WNBA season.

She wouldn’t necessarily be the same electric player with the killer cross-over who could give you 20 points on a given night. But instead she could get a bucket when needed and provide a building franchise with her trademark leadership and competitiveness.

Augustus, though, proved mortal over the course of a career that wasn’t without its setbacks. She had surgery to repair a torn ACL in 2009, had surgery a year later to remove thyroid tumors and had arthroscopic knee surgery in 2015.

Augustus came back with a vengeance to prove herself each time, until the effects of this year’s training camp with the Sparks proved to be too great of an obstacle.

There was one such instance when Augustus realized the end was near as a cold slap to the face.

She endured a session of 48 sprints with her trainer that was purely driven by ego, she said. After a long walk to her car, she didn’t have the energy to start it.

“My spirit was like, ‘what are you doing?’,” she said. “I constantly had a battle from that day until the day I decided (to retire).”

The Sparks were in the midst of trying to finalize their 12-player roster for the upcoming season and after years of being able to will her body to do super-human things. She nobly believed if she couldn’t give the Sparks her best as a player, it would be in the best interest of the franchise to step aside and allow a couple of younger players the opportunity to fill remaining roster spots.

Augustus informed the Sparks of her intentions to retire. Fisher jumped at the chance to have one of the league’s greatest players where she could continue to impact the game in a different capacity.

“To be a top player for the good majority of my career and be able sustain that excellence over that time. I saw the best defenders in the league on a nightly basis,” Augustus said of what she’s most proud of. “I need this. I love to compete. In coaching you compete, but in a different way with schemes, patterns, and how you’re going to attack. That really excites me.”

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